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Posted by: | Posted on: July 26, 2016

Cambodian’s democracy is not developing — it is stagnating



Comment: Nicely termed indeed to call Cambodia democracy “gray zone” or “foggy zone”. For me,  it is beyond that two zones acclaimed by academicians, it is a “risky ridge zone” between crocodile and tiger. Cambodian people know very well that China is crocodile and Vietnam is tiger. Kampuchea Democratic Party led by Pol Pot has evidenced on humankind devastation when their organ was purely given birth and bred by Vietnam but nurtured and nutrient by China. Under current leadership of government-led party CPP,  the history repeat itself.


Cambodian Democracy: Trapped in the ‘Gray Zone’

Op-Ed: The Diplomat

Cambodian’s democracy is not developing — it is stagnating.

By Chum Chandarin, July 27, 2016

I greatly appreciate that Parker Novak’s interest in Cambodian politics and that he foresees a positive outcome for Cambodian democracy. Unfortunately, as a Cambodian, I believe his article entitled “Cambodia’s Democratic Development: Short-Term Pain, Long-Term Gain,” fails to engage some facts which could lead to an unrealistic hope about Cambodian society and stagnate democratization.

While Novak observes the absence of violence and removal of some clauses in the cyber law as a positive trend toward democracy, he misses some important issues that are concerning democratic advocates and scholars around the globe. What is happening in Cambodian politics is not unique, compared to what is happening in Latin America as well as other Southeast Asian nations. A quick look at the Freedom House reports would reveal that Cambodia is still classified as an authoritarian state, as it has been for decades. Cambodia does not even fit into the minimalist conception of democracy introduced by Joseph Schumpeter — a ruler elected “through a competitive struggle for the people’s vote” — let alone Robert Dahl’s “polyarchy” which demands free and fair elections as well as the rights to participation, expression, and information.

The positive look at Cambodian democracy is misleading. Cambodia is falling into the “political gray zone,” a term coined by Thomas Carothers in the January 2002 issue of the Journal of Democracy, in an article entitled “The End of the Transition Paradigm.” The political gray zone is a space where countries are “neither dictatorial nor clearly headed toward democracy,” according to Carothers. The regimes have certain democratic institutions but are less accommodated to political opposition and civil society participation. Citizens in this gray zone context do not meaningfully participate in the polity besides voting and the political parties are entertaining each other without making any serious reforms toward a deeper democracy.

Similar to the gray zone, Andreas Schedler in 2002 introduced the term “foggy zone” where two types of regimes, electoral democracy and electoral authoritarianism, are produced in between the poles of closed authoritarianism and liberal democracy. To him, elections are needed for a democratic country, but true democracy has to go beyond the elections to the institutionalization of “other vital dimensions of democratic constitutionalism, such as the rule of law, political accountability, bureaucratic integrity, and public deliberation.”

Cambodia is trapped within the “foggy zone” and qualifies as an electoral authoritarian state as it has failed to institutionalize its democratic institutions. There are recurring free elections but not fair competition. The military is under one-man rule. The court is influenced by politics. Fundamental rights granted by the Constitution have been continuously violated. Clearly, the beatings of opposition members of parliament (MPs) in broad daylight in front of the National Assembly and the detention of opposition politicians are some of the many examples of ways the ruling party is abusing its own law.

Thus, to argue that Cambodia is heading toward a meaningful democracy, and shall merely bear some pain along the way, is to miscalculate the authoritarian’s ability to consolidate his power and manipulate democratic rules to camouflage his dictatorship. It will take a stronger push from both local and international actors to advocate for more meaningful democracy. Cambodians have been enduring enough pain, have lost many lives, and have vigorously spoken for true democracy in their country. If elections are the only road to democracy, yet the election does not reflect the people’s true will, what can Cambodians hope for?

CHUM Chandarin is a senior lecturer in a private University in Cambodia. He is currently undertaking his PhD study in the field of democracy and decentralization in a European university. He used to work with various organizations in the field of community development and education

Posted by: | Posted on: June 16, 2013

Thailand’s tenuous support of democracy questioned

Sam Rainsy

Phnom Penh Post
By Roger Mitton

18 Sam Rainsy

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy in Washington in May. The self-exiled Rainsy was denied entry into Thailand last week, and was reportedly told he would not be allowed back until after the Cambodian election. Photo by AFP

Sam Rainsy, Cambodia’s opposition leader and former finance minister, is not a man you would want your sister to marry.

Though still boyishly handsome and stylish, he is outspoken, arrogant and very smart. Such men tend to rise meteorically, then self-destruct before gaining real power.

That said, despite self-imposed exile in France to avoid an 11-year jail sentence he claims is politically motivated, it is still too early to write off Rainsy, 64, as a recent incident in Bangkok proved.

Last Wednesday, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand planned to host an event at which Rainsy would discuss poverty, corruption and injustice in Cambodia.

Given past conflicts with media-suppressive Thai governments, the FCCT stressed that it was not sponsoring Rainsy’s visit and that “responsibility for program content was solely that of the event organiser”.

The organiser’s name, however, was not revealed, although it was stated that the event would feature the launch of Rainsy’s new autobiography, We Didn’t Start the Fire: My Struggle for Democracy in Cambodia.

The book recounts his early days in Phnom Penh, his family’s expulsion, the Khmer Rouge regime, the Vietnamese occupation, and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s control of the country since 1985.

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Posted by: | Posted on: February 28, 2009

Anti-Democratic Politics: Book Review

Book Review

By Sophan Seng

Intervention & Change in Cambodia: Towards Democracy? By Sorpong Peou. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000, Hardcover: 573pp.

Recent studies of Cambodia have extensively focused on democracy building including its challenges as a post-conflict country. In 23 October 1991 is considered the significant turning point and it is the renaissance for Cambodia to develop democracy. This date is the Paris Peace Agreement collectively signed. The United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) was appointed as the central body to implement all tasks stipulated by the Paris Peace Agreement. Among those key goals is to neutralize Cambodia’s politics that have been divisive among different political factions and ideologies. Building the capacity for democracy in Cambodia after the Paris Peace Agreement is the main focus written by Sorpong. In order to reflect the reality of democracy development in Cambodia, Sorpong has turned 90 degrees arguments to draw attention by contrasting many different approaches of his thesis. His work is engrossed and erudite through the combination of the topical, analytical, chronological and descriptive approaches. He put effort to justify his book as not substantially based on quantitative or statistic research, but his approach is academically prevalent. He used democracy development as the independent variable and he precisely included Cambodia’s political anti-democratic behavior, internal political structures, and external intervention as the based dependent variables to secure his debate[1].

Sorpong Peou presently is the Associate Professor of Political Science at Sophia University in Japan. He received his PhD in York University from Ontario, Canada. His researches interest is International relations in the Pacific Asia, comparative politics of East Asia, collective human security. His written books focusing on Cambodia potentially reflects his academic background in this area and his nationality as a Cambodian-born Canadian accredits his comprehension on Cambodia issues very well. This book is worthy to read for those who seek to read the academic works from Cambodian scholar writing about Cambodia. Sorpong has numerously written many books about Cambodia such as “Cambodia – The 1989 Paris Peace Conference : Background Analysis and Documents” in 1991, “Conflict Neutralization in the Cambodia War: from Battlefield to Ballot-Box” in 1997, “Intervention & Change in Cambodia: Towards Democracy?” in 2000, “Cambodia: Change and Continuity in Contemporary Politics” in 2001, “International Democracy Assistance for Peacebuilding: Cambodia and Beyond” in 2007, “Human Security in East Asia: Challenges for Collaborative Action” in 2008 and other numerous published articles relating Cambodia. So we can agree that Sorpong has well illustrated his expertise on Cambodia.

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Posted by: | Posted on: January 29, 2009

My Stunning Experience in the Inauguration Day of President Barack Obama

My Stunning Experience in the Inauguration Day of President Barack Obama

Today, the campus center has been neatly managed with chairs, large screen TV, and attractive banners with the slogan written “President Inauguration of Barack Obama”. Suddenly, students of the University of Hawaii enthusiastically cheered, and stood and sang the national anthem along with President Barack Obama. Everyone here looks as proud as Hawaii is the birthplace of their 44th President Barack Obama. As a Cambodian student, I was excited in goosebumps in such a fever.

Barack Obama has a unique background and his political career has been totally shaped by his personal background and charismatic leadership. He is a son of Ann Dunham who was a former student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Hawaii. She was the fellow of East West Center at that time. In that period, Ann met a charismatic Barack Obama Sr. They both married and had Barack Obama Jr. in 1961. Obama Sr. left his family for Harvard and then Kenya. Ann remained her life in UH and married another international student from Indonesia.

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